Multimeters: Definition, Types, & Uses


If you’re someone having an indispensable interest in the electrical world, you must have come across a device namely a multimeter. If you want to know more about this revolutionary device in the electrical field, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to clear your fundamentals about a multimeter where you’ll get to know about:

What is a multimeter?

Also called a volt-ohm meter, a multimeter is nothing but a boon that has simplified the measurements of several electrical values like the voltage, current, resistance, temperature, capacitance, conductance, and much more. You can either use a multimeter to obtain general values or detect faults in electrical circuits or even undertake complex diagnostic tasks. Hence, the sky’s the limit when it comes to the diversity in the applications of this simple hand-held device.

Types of Multimeters

There are mainly two types of multimeters: analog and digital.

Analog multimeter

Just like you understand other analog devices, you can similarly portray an analog multimeter. That is, an analog multimeter is a traditional form of the multimeter that’s based on a microammeter (a current measuring device). There is a metallic needle that moves over a graduated scale to give you a reading.

Considering its design, an analog meter is less expensive, difficult to use & understand, and less durable. Additionally, such a meter isn’t used anymore where faster yet accurate measurements are the king. However, you can find an analog multimeter still in use for reading slow voltage changes. Instead of analog multimeters, modern applications have shifted to the below discussed Digital multimeters.

Digital multimeter

Unlike analog multimeters, digital multimeters are in huge demand these days owing to their high accuracy and ability to produce results in a matter of few seconds. Depending upon your budget and application, you can have either the simpler digital multimeters with limited functionality or an advanced version able to serve a plethora of functions.

In a digital multimeter, you can display the results on an LCD screen. It’s worth noting that a digital multimeter works better in the voltmeter function. This is because of high resistance and low sensitivity. Plus, another crucial boon of using a digital multimeter is its automatic polarity detection i.e. even if the probes are incorrectly connected, the correct value will be displayed over the screen but with a minus (-) sign before it.

How to use a multimeter?

Whether you’re using the analog version or the digital version of the multimeter, the fundamental principle of operation of both is identical.

Both the multimeters have two leads: black and red in addition to three ports. While the black lead goes into the “common” port, the red one inserts into either of the two ports. This will depend upon the function for which the multimeter is being used. Now, to start with, you’ll have to turn the central knob towards the function (or parameter to measure) and select an appropriate range for the same like mA (milliampere), mV (millivolt), V (volt), A (ampere), etc. For example, if the function and range are 15V DC, the meter will detect DC up to 15V. Similarly, for smaller voltages, you may require to change V to mV.

Let’s now take the reading. For this, you need to touch the leads to the terminals or wires of the device under consideration and the result will be displayed on the multimeter.

Note: Be mindful of the electrical ratings of both, your multimeter and the component(s) you’re testing. The electrical ratings i.e. voltage and current should not cross the maximum limit of the multimeter you’re using.

Various functions of a multimeter

As said above, multimeters are available in both basic and advanced versions. If you’re using a basic version, your multimeter may measure the following values.

  • AC voltage & current,
  • DC voltage & current,
  • Resistance (ohms),
  • Capacity (farads),
  • Conductance (siemens),
  • Decibels,
  • Duty cycle,
  • Frequency (Hz),
  • Inductance (Henrys),
  • Temperature (Celsius or Fahrenheit).

In the case of an advanced multimeter, you may have the option to measure the following too.

An advanced multimeter to measure temperature, inductance, etc.

  • Light level,
  • Acidity,
  • Alkalinity,
  • Wind speed,
  • Relative humidity.

Note that while some multimeters have a built-in mechanism to measure the above parameters, others may require some additional accessories to be able to do so.

Final words

A multimeter is rightly said to be a revolutionary device. From measuring the basic current, voltage, and resistance to measuring wind speed, humidity, duty cycles, and much more, everything has been simplified to a great extent. Out of the two main types that are analog and digital, you may hardly find the former in use due to the reasons mentioned above after being replaced by the latter due to its set of potential advantages. Be it any type, multimeters are again getting replenished with added features and soon, you’ll be able to measure an entirely new set of parameters with it!

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